Day 3 and 4 of the EMBS at Helgoland

Wednesday at week-long conferences is usually the day with excursions. Today, we started out with some talks in the morning, among them Alexey Sukhotin showing different studies done at the Russian field station Kartesh in the White Sea over the last 50 years. This was very interesting to us, as Lena went there in 1995 and we would like to return and do some experiments on their Fucus vesiculosus populations.
Also, Hartvig Christie held another talk on the Norwegian kelp forests and seagrass beds, this time on how they can survive being both food and habitat. This study clearly shows how fish help maintaining the kelp and seagrass by feeding on the any grazing gastropods and crustaceans that would otherwise prove too much grazing pressure for these ecosystems.

Since the sun was out and the wind was low, we went for a discovery trip up on the oberland, admiring the view of the North Sea horizon and the interesting geology of the island.

The red sandstone of Helgoland

The red sandstone of Helgoland

We took our packed luch by the nesting colony of Northern gannet, Morus bassanus.

Nestng colony of Northern gannet

Nestng colony of Northern gannet

The birds seem not to mind the passing humans

The birds seem not to mind the passing humans

It was rather sad to see how they have used plastic or nylon netting for nesting material. Several young birds have gotten entangled in the nets and died, so the colonies were draped with more or less mummified birds hanging from the rock.

Plastic as nesting material comes with a prize

Plastic as nesting material comes with a prize

Lange Anna, a monument to erosin by wind and waves.

Lange Anna, a monument to erosin by wind and waves.

After some mandatory selfies at Long Anna at the tip of the island, we walked back towards unterland, passing the local allotment area. Gardening here is very affected by the wind, but lots of dense hedges seems to do the trick.

The allotment gardeners have plenty of sun, rain and seaweed as fertilizer. Using hedges to screen out the wind makes for bumper crops.

The allotment gardeners have plenty of sun, rain and seaweed as fertilizer. Using hedges to screen out the wind makes for bumper crops.

In the afternoon, we took the boat over to Düne to look at the seals and browse the shores there for interesting finds. There are so many beautiful speciments of Laminaria hyperborea kelp here, and I would like to bring all of them home. Best not, I think. A kelp forest in a small appartment might not be such a good idea.

The beuty of kelp, even when washed on to the beach.

The beuty of kelp, even when washed on to the beach.

Typical dune landscape, with few but tough species

Typical dune landscape, with few but tough species

After enjoying the dune-landscape with its typical flora and falcons, we strolled to the southern beach, where the conference dinner and Yellow Submarine competition would be held. The Yellow Submarine has been running since 1968 and although its all in good fun, it is still a prestigeous prize to win.

The Swedish team compeating for the Yellow Submarine. Nils, Lena, Ellen and Angela.

The Swedish team compeating for the Yellow Submarine.
Nils, Lena, Ellen and Angela.

This year, we entered a strong team for Sweden, with no less than 3 professors and one fresh-from-the-oven doctor. Lena and Nils kautsky, Angela Wulff and yours truly worked hard, spinning around bottles, answering questions while building sand castles and collecting water (huge effort by aquatic gazelle Angela).

All the teams did very well and the winner will be announced later in the week. The evening ended pleasantly late after drinks and high spirits amongs all.

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Day 2 of the EMBS on Helgoland

After a crab-pizza for dinner and a good nights sleep, it is yet another day of interesting talks on the EMBS conference.

Another day of interesting talks!

Another day of interesting talks!

Agnese Marchini from Italy presented her research on foreign visitors in Venice lagoon. There are 71 non-native species in this one lagoon, most came from Japan, but also Indo-Pacific and other origin. Most of these have been introduced by boats, as Venice is the main port for cruiseships in the Mediterranean. There are also oyster and clam farms, who import the ”seeds” from other countries, enabling hitchikers to sneak along. The pacific oyster Crassostera gigas was first introduced in 1966 and expanded enormously in the mid 70’s, still showing a high rate of expansion. The brown macroalgae Undaria pinnatifida and Sargasum muticum are also present, forming large floating mats in favourable condditions. Many species have been shown to be poly-vector spread, meaning that they might arrive on an oyster but then hitch a ride with another species to spread further into the Mediterranean. If you want to look for new species in a harbour, the wooden structures of for example the diktalbs is a very good substrate for first settlement. It is not possible to eradicate the new species in Venice lagoon, but it might be possible to prevent new introductions and contain those who are there, with good management measures.

Her collegue Jasmine Ferrario followed, in the same track, presenting her work as a PhD on investigating if harbours and nerby marinas share the same non-native species or not. Sampling one harbour and one marina each in three different regions by scraping gave 16 non-native species out of 260 total number of species collected. Some species are recent arrivals, such as a cute ghost-shrimp, and they also found 2 new species not previously found in the Mediterranean Sea. One of them was also first record outside the Pacific Ocean! Jasmines research show how recreational boating is a vector which helps spreading new species in the Mediterranean. Harbours do not seem to differ in species composition, being fairly similar, but marinas do. The results that the marinas had the same or even higher number of non-native species was contraty to what was expected, and an important finding for management of the non-native species in the Mediterranean Sea.

Anya Zalota from Russia then spoke of crustaceans, deapods in particular, found in Russian waters, pointing out that the far East is lacking information since it has not been studied. Many non-native species have been found, but not established, in Russian waters. The highest record of non-native species is of course the Black Sea, and the polar seas seem to have only native species. Taking previous speaker into account, this is only to be expected, since ther eis not much boating in the polar seas. Anya and her team are working in the Sea of Azov, just east of the Crimean, but also look at the distribution of the giant Kamchatka crab. They actually found one of these crabs in the White Sea, near the small marine station Kartesh in Chupa Bay, where we would like to go and looka at seaweed. There is also an ongoing expedition trying to determine the extent of the snow crab, which can be seen on the ”Deadliest Catch” TV-show. The invasions of snow crab seem to coincide with ice conditions the winter before a spread-phase. Although this crab can be caugth and used for human consumtion, there are worries that it is spreading too rapidly and might knock out the native Russian species. The best way of hindering an invasion is to fish it heavily, but one where other species are not damaged, the snow crab might be kept off the Russian shores.

Nadezhda Berezina from Russia, who I have met on several conferences, then showed data from the Neva estuary and the Curonian lagoon in the Baltic Sea and how these estuarine environments are affected by nutrient loads, looking at biomass of annual macroalgae such as Cladophora, Pilayella and Ulva, and also how these ecosystems are dominated by crustaceans. At the ice breaker event when we arrived here this Sunday, Nadezhda told me that she has observed how Fucus is now establishing on the southern coast of Gulf of Finland on the Russian side. This is very interesting news, and it might be worth the hsasle of getting a visa and permission to go there to make some observations and sample, so that the speed of establishment might be assessed.

Before coffee (and very nice cakes), Sabine Horn from AWI have investigated the rôle of birds in the Wadden Sea food web, asking which areas are most important for birds, how do they impact fodd webs and can they be used as indicators. The Wadden Sea is really shallow, with vast expamnses of mudflat containing different types of mussels and clams, seagrass meadows and lots of burrowing worms, all food for different birds. This is a very special area and I would like to go there, just to experience the flatness. The highest bird concentrations are found on the sand flats and the seagrass meadows, and Sabine show how the Wadden Sea food web has both top-down and bottom-up effects.

After coffee Markus Brand showed the composition of the shallow fish community in Kongsfjorden at Spitsbergen on Svalbard. A very interesting arctic gradient was present in the fjord, with warmer water coming in and being cooled by meltwater from the glacier. They do some diving there, which I also would like to, as they only sample during summer when they can access the fjord.

Stefanie Dekeyzer from WoRMS presented their new database World Register of Introduced Marine Species (WRIMS), wich is compiled by numerous experts and makes this data very accessible.

Shasha Wang is working with Martin Wahl at Geomar in Kiel, trying to determine if the invasive forms of the red algae Gracillaria vermiculophylla have stronger defense against fouling by the red alga Ceramium spp. She has compared Gracillaria from Germany and France, where it has been introduced, to specimens from the species’ natural range in China and Japan.

We were then very interested to hear from Torjan Bodvin, a Norwegian collegue, about the speed and rate with wich the pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas, is currently travelling up along the Norwegian coastline. Their rapid colonization might well be a problem, and I for one am ready to assist our dear neighbours by coming over to Norway and eat as many oysters as I can.

Main beach on Helgoland

Main beach on Helgoland

We took our packed lunches and ate them on the pier by the beach, admiring the seaweed diversity on the breakwater structures. We then took yet another foraging walk on the beach, looking at what new species had been washed up since last tide. Today we found more red algae. I had expected several species of molluscs washed ashore, but so far there is only Gibbula sp, some Littorina obtusata and the odd fragment of Littorina littorea. Tomorrow we will walk on the other side of the island, perhaps there will be more shells there.

Studying seaweed from above...

Studying seaweed from above…

and from (during high tide) below

and from (during high tide) below

Tuesday plenary talk was by Hans Otto Pörtner, who has an immense publication list and is very inspiring. He was adressing the impacts of climate change on ocean biology. The feeling was a bit bleak, as the numbers for human impact on the oceans is not very happy reading. However, one must not give up hope on the effects of good management, hightened awareness and alternative methods in fisheries etc.

This pretty much summarizes it

This pretty much summarizes it

The 50th European Marine Biology Symposium – back where it started.

The first marine biological symposium was held on Helgoland in 1965. Since then, it has been held in more than 20 different countries around Europé, som hosing it two or even three times.

Lots of laughs and interesting dscussions with EMBS veterans during the ice-breaker

Lots of laughs and interesting dscussions with EMBS veterans during the ice-breaker

The main topic this year focuses on long term trends, divided into subgroups of, for example,  climate change, microplastics and anthopogenic influence.

The 50th EMBS was opened by professor Karin Lochte from Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), long time associated with both Helgoland and the EMBS, opened the conference by summarizing the history of this conference.

She pointed out the importance of long term studies, and the need for good methods that do not change over years, to have sites all over the world in order to compare, the need for technology to get high resolution data, and finally to consider how we use data and interpret it.

She was followed by professor Karen Wiltshire, the vice president of the AWI, who put Helgoland as a palce of science in a historical perspective. Reknown scientists such as Heisenberg, Alexander von Humboldt, Ehrenberg and Johannes Müller all spent time on this interesting rock far out in the North Sea, commenting on the interesting marine life. The first ”Königlich Biologischen Anstalt” was founded here in 1865, and there is the first photo of plankton nets together with, amongst others E. Heckel, who illustrated with much imagination, life in the seas.

She also told us that, when she first moved here (she’s been living here for 14 years) a local said ”Oh, are you working with those strange people? Make sure you don’t become too peculiar too, dear.”

Another local comment was ” I met an very nice italian scientist on that there conferenc you had some 20 years ago. It would be nice if you had one of them again”. The motif might not be one of science, but we felt very welcome all the same.

The mayor of Helgoland, mr Jörg Singer, welcomed us in a loving and amusing way to the island, saying that this island has probably the worlds highest PhD-density, but confessed that although the locals have no idea of what the PhD’s are doing, they are very important to the island community. The island has formerly been Danish and then British (who traded it with  Germany for Zanzibar), and of course have been home to many smugglers. Today, the island is full of tax free shops selling alcohol, cigars and expensive watches, making smuggling a non-profit carreer.

The charming and inspiring renown scientist Victor Smetacek held a commemorative talk over the late Otto Kinne, born in 1923 who passed away in March.

Victor Smetacek speaks of the life and ambitions of late Otto Kinne

Victor Smetacek speaks of the life and ambitions of late Otto Kinne

Otto Kinne got his PhD in Kiel, supervised by professor Adolf Remane, the founding father of comparative zoology, who hugely influenced zoology in Germany. Otto not only published his thesis in 1953, he also published no less than 15 papers, only 2 of which he was not single author. Victor rightly describes Otto as an übermench. Otto also instigated the Helgoland Symposium series, which were hugely popular, not least due to the cheap drink available on the island. This was the beginning of what then evolved into the EMBS. Otto Kinne also started one of my favourite scientific journals, Marine Ecology Progress Series (MEPS), which was edited by himself in his home for the first years. Today, everyone would like to publish in this journal, which is one of the most prominent in marine ecologyeveryone would like to publish in this journal, which is one of the most prominent in marine ecology.

Otto Kinne himself

Otto Kinne himself

The first session was on the theme ”Drivers of ecosystem change in marine/coastal ecosystems”.
Julia Meyer showed a very nice long time series starting in 1972, same year as the timeseries we will present tomorrow started. Her series was data on species composition shifts in epibenthic and demersal fish species in the Jade area. It was interesting to see a dataset similar to ours, allthough this was much more stable since only two persons have been collecting data over the years. Ours is done by students on the marine ecology course.

Rebecca Gladstone-Gallagher from New Zeeland presented some very interesting studies on the organic enrichment effect of microbethos by seaweed, seagrass and mangrove leaves in an estuarie. She is two years into her PhD, so no data is published yet.

Detritus enrichment of sediment makes for interesting studies

Detritus enrichment of sediment makes for interesting studies

Alf Norkko, the head of Tvärminne fieldstation in Finland, held a presentation where he pointed out that the only way we can hope to solve the big questions is by working together, showing examples from the Baltic Sea that the Tvärminne group are working on, and presenting in different sessions here during the week. I look forward to listening to more of their findings.

Gil Rilov from Israel has setup a research facility near Haifa and is documenting the shift on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean from native species living on the tolerance limit of temperature, to now being more or less a vommunity of non-native species coming from the Red Sea via the Suez channel and taking over the rocky shores. There are some very interesting questons in the field of tolerance limits and species shifts regarding function and complexity.

Gil Rilov shows the changes in the eastern Mediterranean ecosystem

Gil Rilov shows the changes in the eastern Mediterranean ecosystem

The session ended with a presentation by Sarina Jung, on where the biological limit of the Wadden Sea is, from a phytoplankton perspective.
After a quick luch, we went down to the shore to inspect the seaweed species richness. Happy happy found lots of Fucus vesiculosus, Fucus serratus, Ulva, Porphyra and Mastocarpus. The tideline of jetsam contained lots and lots of long, thick Laminaria hyperborea stipes and Desmarestia aculeata. Not much fauna, though. But found some Gibbula shells for the collection.

The first keynote speaker was Poul Holm from Trinity College in Dublin. His talk concerned integrated approaches to ocean management. He made some very good points on how we should not see ourselves as narrow specialists, that we should work on the translatory skills to get our results into society and that what drives us all is the curiosity. The need for cross-diciplinary research was highligted, how technical knowledge and natural science need to incorporate the social sciences and the humanities. Sometimes we do not need to restrictourselves to scientific data in order to make people understand the difference between right and wrong. The by now classic pictures of big bass fished in Florida in the 1950’s and the biggest catch of today (nothing bigger than 50 cm) really says it all. Presenting some quite depressing time series that date back to the 19th century, it is remarkable how much data can be found by going into historical archives of log books from fishermen, whalers and other users of the seas. Much of such data is today available on the Internet for those who are interested. Much is summarized in a paper on Marine environmental history, a subject which need more attention I should think. Check out the site http://www.tcd.ie/history/opp/ for more on this topic. We are learning, we are getting more ocean litterate, and we should focus on the solutions, not just highlighting the problems.

Continuing on drivers and responses to ecosystem change, Frithjof Moy from Norway gave an exciting talk on the effects of kelp harvesting in Norway, where mainly Laminaria hyperborea is harvested for alginates and the pharma-industry. The Norwegian kelp forrests have declined over the last 50 years, not only due to trawling but also due to grazing by sea urchins. In the middle of Norway, however, it has remained relatively undisturbed. So a couple of study sites have been established here in order to obtain background values. Trawling of kelps naturally affects the kelp biomass directly, but it does not seem to affect either fish or crabs . Two years after trawling the kelp has recovered, although younger and shorter. But here there can be seen a shift in the fish community, where codfish are absent and goldsinny wrasses are abundant.

Inka Bartsch then talked of fucoids! Yay! The intertidal flat of Helgoland is mainly composed of a dense Fucus serratus belt. On these flats, 140 sample points are measured twice per year, winter and summer, whereof 60 are on the Fucus serratus community. There was a large disturbance in 2007 with the Kyril storm, and Inka shows that the cover was restored to the before-density in about three years. Also, some very interesting data shows the self-enhancing restoration, where up to 25% och biomass is lost mainly in winter, whick makes way for new growth.
The understory community consists of coralline crustose alga, Chondrus crispus, Ulva spp and Littorina obtusata. There was a visible negative effect on the crustose algae efter the storm, showing how sensitive they are to high light levels. There was no immediate effect on the Littorina snails, who graze on Fucus, but the year after there was less snails around, perhaps due to lack of suitable substrate for eggs the year before. The ephemeral green algae Ulva spp. Increased, probably snce there was now much free space and also less Littorina snails around, since they also eat Ulva.

Dense Fucus cover on the Helgoland intertidal shore

Dense Fucus cover on the Helgoland intertidal shore

Paolo Magni reported on the latest findings concerning the ecological function of the seagrass Nanozostera noltii beds in Venice lagoon.

All the way from Canada, Mathieu Cusson (showing some nice Fucus pictures) spoke of multiple effects of disturbance, looking at one of the worlds biggest estuaries, the St Lawrwnce estuary in Quebec, Canada. Here they have Fucus distichus edentatus and Fucus vesiculosus, which forms a cooling, protective layer for many understory flora and fauna, when viewed with a heat camera.
A really neat study of disturbance was performed, looking at resistance and resilience. I am so envious of those working on tidal shores, where it is so much easier to set up experiments. Not that I don’t like diving, but it does take a lot more time. This study shows that species richness is not a good measure for reslilience. Resilience was not affected by enrichment and grazer reduction alone, but interactive disturbance effects could be seen.

A neat field study. How pleasant to work on tidal coasts...

A neat field study. How pleasant to work on tidal coasts…

The always interesting Hartvig Christie appeared and spoke of regime shifts in Norwegian kelp forests to sea urchin grazed barrens. The extent of the loss in Norway is estimated to 200 km2 Saccharina latissima, for example, which naturally effects the associated communities. But the sea urchin communities have now collapsed. It might be due to higher temperatures, or that the urchin-eating crab Cancer pagurus, is moving north along the Norwegian coast. Experiments show that the increasing temperature has a direct negative effect on the sea urchins but also has a positive effect on the crabs, which in their turn negatively affects the urchins further. The loss of Saccharina might also be connected to increasing temperature, since it is a cold water species. It its also sensitive to poor light conditions, and the water quality has been reduced in the last years, which has increased the biomass of epiphytes on kelp, thus reducing light levels below the critical level for kelp survival. These large scale changes in kelp forest distribution are probably the result of complex interactions between multiple factors. Climate change have direct (temp) and indirect effects on the kelp communities.

Hartvig Chrisite discusses what drives the rise and fall of kelp survival

Hartvig Chrisite discusses what drives the rise and fall of kelp survival

Jennifer Dannheim rounded off the day by talking of the relevance of red list species, asking the question if they are also rare species. They are not. Not all red list species are rare, and all rare species are not red listed.